Section 3: Style


  • Use abbreviations in the list of works cited and in tables; do not abbreviate within the text of a research paper except within parentheses.
  • When abbreviating, keep these guidelines in mind:
    • Do not begin a sentence with a lowercase abbreviation.
    • Common abbreviations such as etc., e.g., and i.e. may be used only in parentheses. Example: In the text, write and so forth (etc.); that is (i.e.); for example (e.g.)
    • In the text, spell out the names of countries, states, counties, provinces, territories, bodies of water, and mountains.
    • When writing initials, add a single space after each letter. Example: J. S. Bach, Charles L. Grant.


  • Do not use periods after letters and spaces between letters.
  • If an acronym is commonly used as a word, it does not require explanation (IQ, LSD, FBI, ESP).
  • A term must be fully written the first time it is used, with the acronym in parentheses behind it; for subsequent references, the acronym is acceptable. Example: International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM)
  • Write the plural form of an acronym without an apostrophe. Example: Their DVDs cost too much.


Heading caps: Capitalize the first words, last words, and principal words in titles and subtitles.


  • Italicize titles of independently published sources (books, periodicals, DVDs, etc…).


  • Write about literature in the present tense.
  • Generally, present tense is preferred.
  • Be careful not to switch between tenses.
  • Use present tense when the condition is ongoing.

Verb Tenses Within a Paragraph

  • Generally, keep verb tenses within a paragraph consistent.
  • Switching verb tenses often signals communication of a new idea.
  • Such communication will often be facilitated by beginning a new paragraph.

Subject & Verb Agreement

The number of the subject determines the number of the verb.

Her list of Piaget's stages of development, including the sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational stages, were incomplete. (Wrong)

Her list of Piaget's stages of development, including the sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational stages, was incomplete. (Right)

Break down the sentence to understand which verb is correct:

Her list . . . were incomplete (Wrong)
Her list . . . was incomplete (Right)

"This" typically requires a noun.

This is incorrect. (Wrong)
These were incorrect.

This statement is incorrect. (Right)
These items were incorrect.

Pronoun Antecedent Disagreement

Everyone submitted their own paper. (Wrong)
Everyone submitted his or her own paper
. (Right)

Everyone is singular; therefore, the modifying pronoun should be singular.

  • Other words that are singular include each, someone, nobody, anybody.
  • Companies are singular: Starbucks, Coca Cola, Walmart. Refer to these companies as it or the company.
  • The use of “he” to embrace both genders used to be a conventional tool to avoid the awkwardness of using both “he and she,” “his or her.”

Sensitivity to sexist language today precludes the use of such conventions. One way to avoid the awkwardness is to use the plural.

The writer must address his or her readers’ concerns.
Writers must address their readers’ concerns.

That & Which

The book that I want is on the table.
The book, which I want, is on the table.

The use of "which" typically requires a comma. The use of "that" does not typically require a comma.

Active/Passive Voice

  • When possible, choose active voice.
  • Passive voice is less precise and more confusing.

Mike drove the car. (Active)
The car was driven by Mike.

  • Avoid passive voice. Avoid using the “to be” verbs—am, is, are, was, were, have, has, had, be, being, been. Restructure sentences to avoid “to be” verbs and “of.”

Word Splurge

  • Wordiness impedes clarity.
  • Why use ten words when three words will do?
  • Treat words like money. Do not spend more than is absolutely necessary.
  • Be succinct.

Use of Person in Writing

  • Academic writing typically uses the third person, except in direct quotations.
  • Use of the first person "I" is traditionally seen as a violation of the quest for objectivity. There are, however, exceptions, e.g., qualitative research reports. In any event, the first person should not be overused.
  • Use who for people and that for things.
  • Avoid using second person (“you”) in academic writing.